Bikkuri Saseru

January 30, 2017:

Hikari tries to intervene in a chase and nearly suffers disastrous consequences. John imparts some shocking information about just what her 'lines' are made of and hooks her up with someone who can teach her to better protect her soul.

New York City

Characters

NPCs: Mystery NPC

Mentions: Rocket, Groot, Zatanna Zatara, Paint

Mood Music: Angelic Creation, Namely Light


Fade In…

New York bides its time, waiting for spring. The city is caught in the strange between-time, a bridge between one season and the next. The weather is slowly beginning to turn; warm enough that the dirty, crusted-over low banks of snow on the edge of every sidewalk are beginning to melt on streets that see enough sunlight, creating a slurry of filthy liquid underfoot even when it isn't raining — which it is, tonight. Cold enough, still, that pedestrian traffic remains lighter than it will be in the summer, most of the locals preferring warm air and dry feet whenever possible. Those forced to be on the move — and there are many — do so with heads down and shoulders up, hurrying from one point of proof against the inclement weather to the next at a walking speed only achievable by the truly metropolitan.

There are still too many people on the street for the tastes of one John Constantine, but that's because this evening he finds himself chasing someone on foot.

This is unfortunate for countless reasons, not the least of which the fact that he's been outrageously unkind to his lungs over the last twenty years of his life, and prolonged sprints are…

…a challenge.

It is a brief disruption, tearing its way up a minor Brooklyn side street, but one impossible to ignore. The object of the chase is dressed in black, or…swathed?…in black, or in some other way occluded to the eye by darkness, though the lateness of the hour and the speed at which the figure is moving contribute to some degree of uncertainty for any prospective onlookers. John is far easier to see: he is drenched from head to foot, the coat he wears little protection against the fat and driving slant of a moderate rain when he's moving so quickly. He wears brighter colors and periodically lets loose a short, sharply snapped oath in his distinctly English accent, but those things cannot compare in attention-drawing quality to the blaze of — light? — emanating from the inside of his left wrist. It pulses, it seethes in hues of white and darker indigo, and it leaves a thread of deep unease in his wake, like the passing of a nightmare.

The dark figure in the foreground bounces through small knots of pedestrian traffic deliberately, leaving a rippled wake of malcontent humanity behind, the better to interfere with John's pursuit, and John — being John — does not seem to care as much about dodging them as would be polite, actively shoving aside those who look able-bodied enough to withstand it.

—-

It was supposed to be a nice Friday evening on the town!

Not a work night or a school night or an anything night, just a few hours spent wandering around the actual city itself. Hikari grew up in a suburb - still lives there, actually - and her studio is in Mutant Town. They're like opposite ends of a spectrum, with New York City proper occupying that mythical 'normal' quality.

What M-Town and the city proper have in comon, however, is a certain lack of 'people that are nice about shoving you out of the way'.

And Hikari, being a girl just getting out of her teens, does look so very able-bodied. Plus she's wearing a giant raincoat and carrying a face-hiding umbrella, so there's that. Someone rushes past her, someone dark and hurried, and maybe that would be just fine if another person hadn't shoved through right afterward! Hikari catches a hand in the middle of her back (accompanied by a phrase she thinks may be English and is definitely rude) and stumbles to keep her balance. "H-hey!!"

Catching herself before she falls, she turns on the chase in a whirl of transparent vinyl. "You—!" But they're running still, and Hikari is /upset/, and it's gross and cold outside! She starts after them, feet sploshing through puddles, because this is /her/ city too, damn it, and people should be nicer, and why is there a pressure at the back of her skull that gets worse the closer she gets to them?

"I said hold on!" She throws a hand out before herself, loops and lengths of soul energy bursting from the asphalt to wind about the pursuer and the prey. "WAIT A MINUTE!"

—-

Her aim is — of course — very good. Cannot help but be, when what she snares her targets with is a manifestation of her soul, obedient entirely to her will.

The fleeing figures pound their way across the pavement, feet barely touching the ground, jagged halos of water spit up from beneath their feet, and never once do they have an inkling that someone else might have a stake in whatever game they're playing. They do not, /could/ not, foresee what happens, and when those ephemeral, ropey coils emerge, they snare both figures with predatory efficiency, plucking John out of the air as though it were nothing to do so and coiling about the enigmatic individual in the lead. Every passing moment — two, three, four seconds — allows those tendrils of Hikari's soul made manifest the opportunity to convolute further about limbs and clothing. It seems as though the chase may be at an end, as both of her targets seem at a loss as to how to extricate themselves. The figure in front, arms bound to — his? her? — sides twists and writhes but has no physical leverage against those metaphysical shackles, and John, though he can get his hands on the substance in which he finds himself tangled, spends those precious few moments in analysis, probing with whatever center of sixth senses allows him to sense things beyond the perceptions of others. He traces the pathways of that energy back toward their source with eyes the color of an unclouded blue sky, blinking rainwater, struggling to see her in the haze of overhead lights and now-fleeing pedestrians.

That's the moment when everything begins to go wrong.

The figure in the lead, outlines indistinct through a clinging darkness, goes still and limp, boneless in the grasp of Hikari's soul tethers, but hardly quiescent: something bleeds out of that vague shape, not a light or a darkness but a kind of /un/-light. Everything it touches has the polarity of its visual qualities reversed, like the negatives from a film camera, and that light spills down the loops and lengths of her soul's coils, dissolving them as it goes. The figure drops to the ground in a pile, but does not move, a locus from which that unnatural radiance seeps into the ground and bullets along the trajectories that link them to her. The cement of the sidewalk seems to lose the substance of itself above the channel of that racing taint, becoming queerly transparent; tree roots and buried pipes for plumbing become ever-so-briefly visible as the unlight spools through her threads of soul like an injection into a vein.

The sensation is unlike anything else on earth, and for good reason: it is unlike anything on earth, the absolute antithesis of Everything. It is void made manifest, and as it hungrily follows the live wires of her soul back toward the font of it, it simply erases those pieces of her from existence.

John watches the display, watches the unlight race off toward the source of his current predicament, and his eyes widen, rings of stark blue in perfect white.

"/Pull them in!/ Pull in your— " He grits his teeth, casts his eyes heavenward, mutters, "Oh, bloody—"

What happens after that is not entirely clear, but there's a burst of golden light. It shreds what she places around him, a messy severance, but a desperate effort to break the circuit between she and the outflung stuff of her soul. To try to prevent it from reaching her, and cancelling everything that she is, was, or will be.

—-

Gotcha! Hikari doesn't grin, precisely, but she feels /satisfied/. Now maybe everybody can calm the hell down, and she can figure out why they're running, and maybe she even can help solve whatever's wrong.

The wide lines of light that wind around John and the mysterious figure don't hurt. They do and don't have physicality - they're two-dimensional constructs in a three-dimensional world. They should have vorpal edges, neatly separating atoms at mere proximity, but they don't. They should be easily broken with sufficient force, but they aren't. They're made of nothing at all, and made of everything that makes <Hikari>.

They are soul and thread and the concept of a line, the keywords 'connection' and 'separation'.

They're a mutant power. They're a soul.

They're <light>.

But something's wrong…

What is that? One of them… the chaser, seems fine. Normal, even, whatever that means. But the chased — the ribbons wrap around and around, catching what /must/ be substance, because everything is made of something, isn't it? But even though she can feel them touching him - her - it, Hikari can't… there's something wrong, something /gone/, something /unmaking/.

pull them in

Brown eyes widen as time spins slower. It's eating her. She's /nothing/—

There is gold. Light. Not her. Not <Hikari>. <Kou>, maybe? It blazes brighter, scouring her threads into nothing, breaking the pieces to save the whole.

Where John doesn't sever them, they vanish on their own. Razed to nothing by his act, or bursting into softly scattering glowdust, he is free, and 'it' is free, and Hikari jerks like she's been shot before stumbling to her hands and knees with a sick sound of meat on pavement. "Ouf!"

—-

As the ties disintegrate and their mistress collapses, John hits the pavement almost simultaneously, everything that was holding his struggling body aloft suddenly gone, dissolving back into the everything from which it was condensed for its purpose.

He finds himself faced with a choice. As the ribbons of soul energy dissipate, the object of his chase is also freed, and he can see it rise to its feet out of the corner of his eye, bolting immediately for the alley at the end of the block. Behind him, downed on hands and knees, is the young woman who tried to intervene, with a talent he's never seen before — one as dangerous to her as it has the potential to be to the people around her.

He can capture his target…or he can see if she's alright.

He is John Constantine.

He snaps himself up to his feet with a limber fluidity few would credit him with and sprints after the figure bathed in darkness, disappearing into the mouth of the alley and leaving Hikari there on her hands and knees, in the rain, with pieces of her soul in tatters.

…he comes back, though.

Not out of any overpowering sense of guilt or conscience, though he possesses both of those things — it's just that the figure he'd been after was nowhere to be seen once he rounded the corner. The indigo-black-white light spewing from the inside of his left wrist so brightly that it had blazed through the cloth of his shirt and the thicker weave of his coat is no longer shining at all.

She'll hear his footsteps gritting on the cement, hear him catching his breath. He stops just in front of her, rakes his fingers back through the damp tousle of his hair, swirls of light brown and gold that drip and glow with rain.

He drops into a crouch.

"I get to see people do a lot of bloody strange things with their souls," he says, bypassing introductions entirely, "But 'lasso' is a new one. C'mon, Lone Ranger. You're gonna need some patching up before you can get back to…rustlin'…dogies. Or whatever."

John is not a western afficionado, clearly.

—-

What?

What?

What…?

He returns to find her sitting on her heels, looking down at her raw palms as if she's never seen them before. The umbrella she'd been carrying is cast aside on the sidewalk meters away, resting on its bell and filling slowly with rainwater as it rocks back and forth in the cold wind. Hikari's long hair is plastered to her raincoat and her neck and her face, tangled in her fingers.

How long has it been?

Everyone else has run away. She's alone, with the raw edges of her <light> rubbing the wrong way against reality. It's cold and wet and it hurts…

Hikari is still and silent as he approaches her, slowly craning her head up to stare at him when his shoes enter her field of vision. She looks a bit shell-shocked, eyes going glassy and mouth open enough to let out breaths as puffs of steam. "Ah…?"

Lone… dogies?

"I thought… it was doggos," she manages, and clenches her hands into fists to keep her teeth from chattering.

—-

Doggos? Dogies?

John's reaction is to slooowly raise one shoulder in a shrug that could not better-express how little he's invested in the accuracy of the vernacular.

She doesn't stand. She doesn't look as though she's planning to stand. She doesn't look as though she's planning to do much of anything.

John's expression firms. He glances at her discarded umbrella and rises from his crouch, taking the two steps necessary to retrieve it and turn it upright, water sluicing out of it and onto the pavement with a splash. A hand materializes in fromt of her, outstretched, palm down. He's offering to help her up. "C'mon, luv, you don't want to be down there unless you've got a real hard-on for hepatitis. In which case I'd actually rather you didn't take my hand, so if you could let me know either way in advance…"

He deadpans most of this. The humor is there, but it's subtle, lingering around the edges, a hidden softness in the background of a tongue that is more comfortable with sharp things.

What follows is more solemn. "Really, though. You're going to need some help wi'that wound of yours, and I doubt anybody else is going to offer."

—-

Even just speaking to her seems to be having an effect, though it's slow going. She blinks again when he walks away toward her umbrella. He doesn't see it, of course, but that's progress! Right??

She's just never been in shock before.

She's never had her lines /broken/ before.

She's coming around when John returns, even if it's slow going. She's young, and resilient, even though she's new and raw. "I don't—" Hikari starts, and stops, and tries again. "I, I don't have hepatitis!" There. Her voice didn't even shake.

This is the man who blazed like angels. <Angelic creation, namely, light> comes to mind before she discards the idea. Angels don't wear trenchcoats or sloppy ties or smell like cigarettes. Do they? Hikari reaches up to take his hand, eyes twitching faintly at the ouch of raw skin against his palm. "But I wasn't hurt, was I?"

Managing to get back onto her feet with his help, the teenager looks down at her palms. "I'm sorry. It's just this."

"But, why do I hurt?" she asks plaintively.

—-

John smells like cloves, as it happens. Because there's a young woman with a soul made of pure magic that he's a little sweet on — not that he'd say that, and most especially not in that way — and she had objections to the man stinking up her furniture like a mobile, weaponized ashtray.

He hauls her to her feet efficiently, and keeps hold of her hand until he's certain she's not going to take a spill if he lets her go. She seems steady enough. Hand released, he tucks his own into his pocket, the other holding her umbrella, which he seems prepared to hang onto for the time being. The only indication that he expects her to follow him is a tilt of his head as he begins walking back the way he came, and the fact that he's speaking as he goes, holding the umbrella to the side she's on, as though he expects her to fill the space beneath it.

"Well, you got your soul a little bit banged up, didn't you? Which is what can happen when you sling it about like half-cooked pasta. Somebody's eventually going to try to make a meal of it."

—-

She's steadying. The soul is not a fragile thing, but a wellspring; it is not static, a picture in a book or a scrap of paper cut into a shape. It is a source of the form it takes. Or, at least that's what Hikari has always privately believed, though her grandfather used to say some funny things about lives and thread.

Hikari follows him, ducking underneath the shelter he offers, because he's the only person nearby. He's close by, and he seems to know what he's doing. He acts like he has answers for questions she hasn't even formed yet.

Besides, he's got her umbrella.

"But that's… that's just my power, I mean, I'm—" Hikari hesitates out of habit, because she's not in Mutant Town right now (or on the Milano where she is the /sane/ one, damn it). "I'm a mutant, that's just what I do." Aren't you, she doesn't ask, because she has too /many/ questions and she doesn't know where to begin. "But that… it felt like it was eating me. Unmaking me. Unraveling? Oh no, but there wouldn't even have been thread left after."

She shakes her head slowly, and wrings some of the water out of her pink hair as they walk. "I don't know where to start. How do you know what a soul looks like anyway?" Is there like a class or something?

—-

John is quiet while she speculates, pale blue eyes ticking from one side of the street to the other, and occasionally downward, though the whatever-it-is on the inside of his wrist has yet to emanate any further light. He only looks at her when she shakes her head, and even then it's sidelong, a tilt downward out of the very corner of his eye, the hard angles of his profile inscrutable.

"It's not how it looked, it's how it felt. …And what happened to it. You were right the first time, with 'unmaking.'" When they reach the corner he stops them, looks either way up and down the street, and then tilts his head to the right, turns that way. "Ever wonder what there was, before God said 'let there be light?' You've just had yourself a little taste of it. Charming, innit? It's almost enough to make you understand why the Big Guy said 'bollocks to this' and whipped up a Creation."

Almost.

"Some of that sting'll be my fault. I thought it would be best to break the connection before it got hold of you. …Or me." He sounds slightly less certain about the latter, which is a strange sentiment for John, who has a notoriously developed interest in keeping his own hide intact. Truth is, he's not sure /what/ would happen to him if the Primordial Darkness touched him, now that he's been branded with the symbol on his wrist.

He is not curious enough to want to find out.

The bit about her being a mutant does not even merit a response. He takes that in stride, no incredulity or disbelief in him, nor awestruck wonder.

—-

Hikari lets herself be led, because she doesn't want him to leave just yet. He's the only person around for a ways yet, though even a potential Voidwalker Invasion won't be enough to keep New Yorkers inside for more than a few minutes tops. "That was… it was /that/ darkness," she wonders out loud. "I remember that part of the Bible. The creation myth. Um… darkness over the waters," Hikari tries to remember. "And then there was light."

"Is that what the other light was, the one from you? Was that /your/ soul?"

Are all mutant powers based on the soul? But what about that one guy who's green and smells bad and doesn't have any real powers?! "Ugh, I was starting to think I had stuff figured out, too…"

It only takes her a moment to realize what he's said, and what she hasn't. She looks over at him, "Ah— thank you. For what you did. For helping me. I'm sorry it got away from you." And thank you, she doesn't say, for being a Decent Human Being Who Doesn't Get All Weird About Mutants. Maybe if she doesn't draw attention to it again he'll keep being that way!!

—-

As he doesn't correct her about the Biblical story, either she's correct in her assumption or it makes no difference whether she's correct or not. Equal odds.

And then she asks him if that light was his soul, and Hikari is treated to something rare: a sudden, sharp laugh from John, accompanied by the sharp and dangerous slash of a white smile. It's enough to tip his head back. "/Christ/ no," he says, and the words are gilded with his lingering humor. "Believe me, luv, you wouldn't want an eyeful of /that/."

They're nearing a building at the end of the street, the plate glass front windows dimly luminous, the interior cozy-looking. An all-night cafe. His trajectory alters enough to imply that this is where he intends them to go, an angle that will intercept the front door. "It's just magic."

It may seem as though he doesn't intend to acknowledge her thanks, as he's quiet for the ten strides or so it takes for them to reach the door of the cafe, which he reaches for and draws open, holding it for her to enter. He collapses her umbrella and fastens it that way, giving it a rough shake to divest it of most of its clinging droplets.

"You may be more sorry than you know. It had a taste of you. If it liked you, it may come back, but I'll see what I can do about that. Meantime, we should get some sugar into you, and you can thank me by telling me all about this trick of yours."

—-

It's probably fine either way - she was just thinking out loud.

He laughs, and she doesn't know why at first. She doesn't speak for a few moments. Magic. "I guess… it makes sense," Hikari says, as if she's testing the concept out in her head first. "There are so many things. Souls and magic and the darkness. I thought… I always thought they were just lines."

The idea of sugar seems good, suddenly. Something sweet that will warm her from the inside. "How about cocoa," she says, and it's half suggestion, half request.

Once they're settled in, she tries to start from the top of the Immediate Problems list. "If it liked me— Wait. But that means I can't use my lines on it," she mumbles, a sinking feeling in her stomach. "That's the only thing I know, I don't do kung fu or, or use a gun or /anything/. What am I gonna do?"

—-

It's easy enough to settle in, at a table near the window, but not /too/ near the window, and John sits with his back to the wall — the better to keep a vigil on the street, one imagines. His eyes tighten as he peels himself out of his drenched coat, down to the wet white dress shirt beneath. Rendered slightly less opaque, there are faint dark lines and half-visible shapes in some of the places where the fabric clings to his skin and his undershirt does not conceal him, suggestive of tattoos — something readily confirmed when he unfastens his cuffs and rolls his sleeves up toward his elbows. The point of origin for the light that stabbed out with such brilliance through all of his layers of clothing proves to be a dark symbol on the inside of the left wrist, large enough to consume the whole width. A circle containing sacred geometry, arrayed with symbols in at least two different styles — a complex, delicate thing that does not quite seem as though it's merely ink beneath skin. It looks like a substance, embedded.

Once they've ordered with the hostess, he cants himself back in his seat with a creak, draping one arm over the back of his chair, posture lazy — belied to some extent by the way he remains aware of passers-by on the street. "I'll work something up for you. A ward, of a kind. It won't work more than once, but it's better than nothing."

'Lines,' she says. Her lines. Her /soul/, and she thinks of them as lines. Wonders, he thinks, never cease. "So what's all this, then? With the 'lines.'"

—-

It's rude to stare, but she kind of can't help it. As an artist she is drawn to the hint of a symbol, as a clothier she is drawn to the human form. Put them together, and…!

She really ought to make him something nice. Like a warmer shirt, or maybe a new coat. Kind of a thank-you gift. And it would give her a chance, maybe, to see the rest of his ink during the measuring process. What, she's curious!

"I don't even know where to begin," she sighs, searching for words or concepts or /something/. "Just… when I was fifteen or sixteen I sort of… one day I just /really understood/ the concept of a line," she shrugs helplessly. "And then I could /do/ something with that understanding."

Hikari traces an invisible line on the tabletop, straight as a ruler. "They connect some things, and they separate other things. They're a path or a blade or lots of stuff. And I… I could make my own lines after that. And over time I got better at it." She looks out the window, elbows resting on the table. "It's like that one… understanding changed the way I could work with the world."

—-

John is…an intense listener. Save for periodic glances at the window that decrease in frequency the longer they sit there, the whole of his attention remains on the girl seated across from him. His eyes tend to lid when he's at rest, but they're no less sharp for all that.

"I don't know about mutants," he says when she's finished, lifting the hand of the arm that isn't draped over the back of his chair to rub at his chin and the crop of stubble well underway, "But I know magic, and that's not so difficult to believe. Put your hands on a key and suddenly you're opening doors you didn't even know were there. I see it all the time."

For all his lack of surprise, he finds the notion interesting conceptually: grasping at the world beneath the mundane through something as simple as an holistic understanding of a line. Symbols have power, of course — the brand on his wrist is proof enough of his familiarity with /that/ — but lines are something somewhat unique. They are the zero numeral of the world of geometry: they are infinite, and without them no other shapes would be possible at all. One cannot divide a line down into nothingness: even a dot is merely a line on an axis pointing away from you.

"Hnh," he says, which is the entirety of his outward expression of those thoughts. "So've you got people teaching you how to manage this? Because it's dangerous, luv. Putting those bits of you out where people — things — can get at them, it's just begging for accidents."

—-

Hikari isn't a very nervous person, which does her good now - this stranger makes listening look like some kind of vital calling in life, as if he were memorizing everything. Dissecting it all and filing every little piece away, labeling them carefully. If she were more private, or were a guilty sort, his undivided attention might be more than she could bear.

But Hikari is just Hikari, as complex and as simple as that.

"I wondered… I thought they were just 'energy'. Like fire or light or kinetic force. Lots of us can do things with those. I met someone who can change the colors of things. Even people. She turned a scar on my leg invisible, even though you can still feel it - there's a little valley there - but it's not just faded. It's completely gone from sight."

She won't mention the fact that Paint also /gave/ her the scar to begin with.

"But her power messed up part of her brain. She can't… really talk well anymore, or count, or read. I think where that all was just got… eaten into." There are all kinds of mutations, and not all of them are flashy or nice."So no matter what happens, I have to feel fortunate. That something like that didn't happen to me."

She fidgets a bit, twisting her hair into a loose rope. "So… no, nobody taught me anything. There wasn't anybody /to/ teach me, so I taught myself." Mutant Town, her workshop, had come later.

—-

One of John's shoulders rises, falls. He glances up and sidelong as the hostess returns with two mugs, but his attention ticks back to Ribbon more or less right away, and he doesn't seem to mind that everything coming out of his mouth is going to sound /crazy/ to someone who isn't involved in his world. The hostess gives him an odd look as she turns to go, and he doesn't respond at all, if he even noticed in the first place.

"Can't speak to the rest, but /yours/, no. Not 'just' energy. You can't measure a soul that way, but you can use it to fuel things. It can be expended." Whatever thought is brought to the surface by that remark causes his lips to twist and thin, but he doesn't delve into any explanation. "I don't know what being taught would even look like, for you, but as I say — just using your soul as a weapon, that's…" His lips close, his regard lingers. "It's as dangerous as it sounds. You should find someone. None of the others you know have any suggestions for you? No contacts, nothing? You're just…what, on your own, entirely?"

—-

The warmth of the mug feels almost scalding. She likes it immediately, tugging it close to herself with her fingertips. "Thank you," she tells the waitress, because she has manners most of the time, and she's absolutely grateful for the heat.

"I've never run out," Hikari murmurs, a frown tugging at the corners of her mouth. "No matter how long I've practiced. I could always make a line. Though… of course I got tired or sleepy eventually, but that happens to everybody who concentrates on stuff for a long time!" It's hardly an indicator of her soul power!

She blows a little bit on the surface of her cocoa, scattering the steam rising from it. "Mm. I don't know anybody who could teach me. I don't know anybody that knows anything about, about /souls/. I mean," Hikari laughs suddenly, "My weirdest friends are a tree and a raccoon but I don't think either of them can help me!" She hopes Rocket and Groot won't take 'weirdest' the wrong way, should they ever find out about it. Hikari likes weird.

"I'm not on my own in life, no. But I've never trained or studied with anybody else," she lowers the pitch of her voice, not quite a soft murmur. "Even other mutants."

—-

When Hikari says that her weirdest friends are a tree and a raccoon, John assumes — like you do — that she literally means a tree and a raccoon, which interestingly enough he finds stranger than he would the truth, which is that both are sentient and anthropomorphic. John lives in a world where demons made of fecal matter can be conjured by the spiteful, and a magical portal to a cult shrine in Switzerland turned out to be the rear orifice of a flayed, skinless abomination named Ashlee with rings pierced into her muscles. That is a thing that happened only a couple of weeks ago, in fact. His metric for what constitutes 'weird' is vastly different than the average person's.

"I don't know how your trick works. Could be you don't lose anything doing it — couldn't say."

And technically, he reflects, reaching for his cup of tea, it isn't his problem. He's got enough things going on as it is, what with how he's pretty sure there's an apocalypse coming. He's interested in how she does what she does, but does he really want to be responsible for her education, even if he could figure out how to go about such a thing?

"I know someone. I'll introduce you. Nobody's going to know how to do what you do, I think that's unique, but there are ways to protect your soul, an' I don't mean praying." He furnishes her with a half-smile. "Some more pleasant than others, but nothing worse than having your soul erased from history by the Primordial Darkness, eh?"

—-

It's starting to cool enough to drink. She chances a sip. It's delicious, and Hikari takes a moment to close her eyes and experience the welcome feeling of heat washing through her mouth and throat and stomach in turn. She takes another, larger sip to enjoy the taste of hot chocolate. Mmmm.

"It's never felt like losing anything. Not until just now… It kinda knocked me for a loop," she admits, in a blatant case of understatement. The world had gone muzzy around the edges. Whether it was due to this person's magic, or the Void Guy eating her lines, she has no idea.

She wraps her hands around the hot ceramic of her mug and wishes she was sitting on a cozy couch so she could draw her legs up. At least her hair's not dripping everywhere anymore!! But when he says he's going to introduce her to someone, she looks up at him in surprise, brown eyes wide. "You—" He knows all about this, souls and stuff, and he's going to pawn her off on somebody else?! He can't just save her life, give her a stranger's phone number, and wander off! Can he?!

"Is it because I'm a newbie?" she blurts out, because it's the first question that reached her mouth before her brain could catch up. "I mean, don't you… Do you not teach people?" She likes this strange guy, who showed up out of nowhere with his crooked smirks and rough accent.

—-

"Yeah, well. The void's the opposite of everything you are, so. That sort of thing's bound to leave a mark," says John. There's inexplicable humor in the way he says it, though it's subtle; it takes a force of will for him not to look at the mark on his wrist, that one deliberately cut into the flesh…and imbued with the raw stuff of the void.

That was a hell of a night.

Her response to his offer to put her in touch with someone surprises, then confuses him, until her last five words clarify the situation, and when they do his brows skew together and rise, skepticism and very mild incredulity evident in his sly face. "No, it's nothing like that, luv, I'm just — this isn't exactly my area of expertise, is it? Mutants? Not that it's /hers/ either, but she's…" Not me? "…different." Also true. In the process, even now, of discovering just how different she is, as the product of a union between a human being and one of the Homo-Magi. "And a woman, so…"

So /what/, John?

He clears his throat, lifts his hands — clever, elegant hands, well-suited to legerdemain. "Look, I just don't have a great track record when it comes to things like 'keeping people alive.' It's for your own good, innit?"

—-

"Ah." Well, if he doesn't want to, she can't /force/ him. And he already helped her once, when he had no obligation to do so. Hikari looks down at her cup of cocoa, tilting the mug to swirl the melting marshmellows into her drink. Her face doesn't hide what she's feeling, though it's up to an observer to correctly interpret the different shades of uncertainty, resignation, and mmmhotcocoa.

Hikari closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and lets it out as a sigh. She looks back up at John, and she makes herself smile. "You know, we're not /that/ different from 'regular' people," she reminds him with just a hint of teasing. "Except when we are, I guess." It's going to be okay. Every time life throws something daunting at her, she'll work through it.

Different? And a woman? "Well… it's true that I don't want to die. But I'm already doing dangerous things. The more I know, the better prepared I'll be. And I'd be very glad to meet this woman, of course. But," and Hikari narrows her eyes at him, "Don't think you can just blow through and disappear once the day is saved, okay?" she admonishes him, wagging a finger in his direction. The stern expression is rather ruined by the warmth in her voice. She puts down her mug long enough to dig in a pocket. "So let's trade numbers— oh, and, uh, names, I guess. I'm Hikari Hataori."

—-

Virtually anyone else on earth would feel a pang of guilt about unshouldering this petite, bewildered, currently bedraggled young woman, particularly after she notices that's what happening, but although guilt is practically the currency of John's existence, he has plenty of things to feel guilty about already, and he doesn't intend to add to the stack unnecessarily.

Hence: the hard line, the tough love.

So there's no remorse in him and no apology in spite of her obvious disappointment: a bit cold, really, although there's nothing chilly in his expression. He still regards her with interest, but for the time being he remains inscrutable, untouched by the more subtle winds of emotion that pass through her expressive face. At least he consents to give her his information: he dips a hand into one side of his coat, into a pocket hidden therein, and retrieves his business card. Black print on white cardstock. It has his name on it, a number, an email address, and nothing else.

He sets it down on the tabletop and slides it across to her with the tip of one finger, then settles back and lifts his cup to his lips. "John Constantine. The woman I'm going to put you in touch with is Zatanna Zatara. She's better at this soft-touch shite than I am, and—"

He pauses.

He was going to say 'considerably safer to spend time with,' because that's how he feels about most other people he knows, but recent events have forced him to reconsider whether or not this is even true in Zatanna's case. "—and she's generous with her time," he says instead. "I'm not really cut out for teaching. …Got thrown out of my last job as a magical tutor, actually." The last thing he says prompts another of those wry looks — but again, he fails to elaborate.

—-

To be fair, John's got a lot on his plate. On the scale of guilt to food items, Hikari is barely a fun-size cupcake.

At least she doesn't seem to be inconsolable, or even noticeably sad. Hikari gets over things. She moves on. And he's giving her his card, which means he probably doesn't hate her or something! She's got her phone out already, some middle of the line mobile, when he pushes that card across with a fingertip. Hikari smiles, really smiles, and slides a pink fingernail into a pocket on her phone case. "I never get to give these out!" she grins, and passes over a business card of her own in the same manner.

Of course hers is professionally designed, bright and cheerful, with a font that somehow suggests reliability. (She got a friend in a graphics design program to do them for her.) Her name, a number, an email address, an iDol page, and the phrase 'design - alteration - repair' at the bottom.

"Some people simply aren't cut out for teaching. How does the saying go… 'those who can, do; those who can't, teach'?" She clearly isn't saying it because she believes it. After all, her father taught her to sew, and he's great at it!

Hikari slides his card into her pocket where it will be safe and beams. "Just don't be a stranger, okay? Come by my studio sometime. I'll make you something nice!"

—-

It's rare that anyone has a card to give /back/ to John. Something about the nature of his profession puts him in touch with people who don't typically operate in mundane circles, earning a living at a business they'd even need a card for in the first place. It makes for a refreshing change of pace.

He takes the card, spins it around, holding it up to eye level to have a look.

"What's this? Tailoring?" He moves the card aside enough to refocus those pale blue eyes on her. "Bloody hell. The two've you ought to get along like sodding peas in a pod." His tone of voice manages to convey that he finds that thought slightly daunting — or maybe it's the thought of Zatanna's wardrobe that daunts him.

He folds his fingers down over the card, makes it disappear. Literally. "Sure, luv. You wouldn't believe how many bits of clothing I go through in a year. Probably beneath your abilities if you're doing bespoke garments an' that, but you can always put down on your CV that you've mended shirts torn by demons. Pad out the ol' resume." He grins. He might be kidding, but it seems…unlikely.

—-

It's important to have a way to connect with people - and for people to connect with her. After all, word of mouth gets her a fair amount of business, but so do old fashioned local newspaper ads. "What, is she a fashionista?" Hikari asks, leaning forward with a sudden intensity. Oho, has she found a new friend? Better yet, a new FRIEND-CLIENT?!

And she's sooooo excited about this potential new friend, she /almost/ misses him disappearing her business card. "Just because something's custom doesn't always mean that it's complicated. You'd be surprised at how many people just want simple things made in the correct size." Like Caitlin Fairchild's black sheath dress. "So when you come visit me, wear the same underclothes you usually do because it can actually change the fit of your outer clothes…" She takes another sip of cocoa, draining the mug. Hikari levels a gaze at him over the rim of her cup.

"And make sure you leave the demons at home!"

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